MedicalResearch: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Prof. Mansuy: It is recognised that being exposed to traumatic stress in early life increases the susceptibility to psychiatric and metabolic diseases later in life. This is true for people directly exposed but also for their progeny across generations. It is also known that sometimes, stress exposure in early life can help an individual develop response strategies and be better prepared for later stressful experiences. The mechanisms of such beneficial effects and the question of whether they can be transmitted or not are not known. This study in mice was designed to answer these questions. The main findings are that exposure to traumatic stress of mouse newborns makes the animals and their progeny more efficient in challenging tasks when adult. For instance, they are more able to adapt to rules that change in a complex task to get a water ration when they are thirsty. This suggests more adaptive behaviours in challenging situations that are transmitted across generation. The study identifies the mineralocorticoid receptor, a stress hormone receptor in the brain, as an important molecular mediator of this effect and demonstrates that its expression is altered in the brain by epigenetic mechanisms.
MedicalResearch: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Prof. Mansuy: That people exposed to traumatic events in early life and their children may have the capacity to develop adaptive behaviours in certain conditions that could potentially help them better cope with stress-related symptoms.
MedicalResearch: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Prof. Mansuy: Future research in the field of epigenetic inheritance should identify the mechanisms involved in the expression and the transmission of such behaviours.